Interview mit Aomar Boum (University of California)

Interview mit Aomar Boum (University of California)

August 31, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


My name is Aomar Boum, I am a
Socio-Cultural Anthropologist, I work on the question of minorities
in the Middle East and North Africa, both ethnic and religious minorities,
and I am associated with the University of California in Los Angeles. Q: What is your personal story behind your research focus? – It goes back to when I started my PhD, I wanted to work on the question of water and water management in southern
Morocco, in southern rural Morocco, where I grew up, and the question
that I wanted to look at basically is how do people manage water in arid lands
and in areas where most of their economic activity is based on subsistence farming
and subsistence agriculture, and over time I thought probably most of
these questions that I want to work on, questions that already discussed by
scholars who worked on the question of water management in areas like Iran and
where one of my former advisers wanted to do his work or he did his work
for a while so I started looking at manuscripts and Islamic manuscripts
and that’s where I was basically faced with how Jews are mentioned a lot in
these manuscripts, especially when it comes to the question of water, and
that led me to start thinking about this question of what does it mean to be a
Jew living in a Muslim rural context where the main economic activity
is farming, and how basically Jews managed to live in these communities,
rural communities, and how they interacted with the local
population, so that’s a historical question that I wanted to look at, as far
as Jews living in Saharan regions, anthropologically speaking, because
that’s my trade. I had to figure out how to look at it and so
that’s where the ethnographic part, or interviewing people came from. I did not
focus on Jews, I focused mostly on Muslims because it’s an area that
used to have a lot of Jews, but by 1960, they already went to Israel
and other parts of Europe, mostly, they migrated to Israel,
so that for me, shifting from interviewing Jews
to shifting to interviewing Muslims was, I think, a very interesting way
of looking at the question. And then from that local context,
I started thinking about broader questions, like what does it mean to be a Jew
in the context of a post-independent Moroccan state, what also does mean to be a Jew
in the context of many Middle Eastern nation-states, and what does it mean to be
another minority in the general place. So I started with this small group, two other
minority groups, both ethnic and religious. Q: What is the most impressive fact you encountered in your research? – It taught me a lot about myself, I think,
as a Moroccan Muslim. I personally, the research part,
led me to think more about what does it mean to be human and
how the manuscripts also tell us more complex stories about
how Jews and Muslims interacted, even in contexts where people
are challenging each other over specific lands,
over specific properties, so that for me was a big
learning moment and from there I’m trying to listen to stories,
also of young adults, who’ve never met Jews and how they get transformed by
talking about these questions today in the Moroccan context, also talking to
people who have lived with Jews. So as we are in the moment, talking about a very political question that’s going on in the Middle East, when you put it in the
context of other historical issues and people actually relate to
personal stories, so it makes the story much much more complex
and then you think about it as a learning, educational, experience,
how you as a teacher also, how to use these experiences,
to be moments of teaching to other kids and new generations, of how to deal
with the question of violence, question of hate, question of anti-semitism,
question of Islamophobia and so on. So that’s a personalizing of the story for me. Why? Because I think the generational story
for me is important, because you can apply it to any groups,
especially at this moment, while we’re talking about questions of refugees, so what does it mean to somebody from Mali
who is facing drought to migrate to Morocco and then from
Morocco coming to Germany or France. So listening to these stories of
people who migrate for different reasons or who move around the world for
different reasons, whether they are forced or because of their own
choice, I think it’s very important to think about these stories, and as you
think about these stories, I think we definitely try to find ways
of how we can, from a policy perspective, in the future, deal with some of these major
issues that face the world today. Q: Why should people outside academia be interested in topics like yours? – There were interviews with Jews, this is
the second phase of some of the projects that I’m working on right now, there were
interviews with Jews all over the world, Moroccan Jews all over the world, it’s
another teaching moment for me, a very personal moment for me,
to see how there is no difference between me and another, and a Moroccan Jew or a descended of Moroccan Jew, because when I go to their synagogues,
I hear the way they pray, I hear the sounds are very similar to the way
when I go and pray in a mosque, the same rhythm. The language, the words might be different
from Hebrew to Arabic, but the sounds are there. When I attend Shabbat, a dinner sometimes, I taste the same Moroccan spices, it’s the same food, the same names, and it doesn’t matter whether you are in Montreal or Los Angeles or somewhere in Casablanca,
it doesn’t change. In the music, in the sound,
all these things, when you think about it and you put it together,
personally, that’s one of the things that I learned from the
research outside of the books that I’m writing, or the articles that I’m publishing,
these are moments that make me, personally, much more, in my understanding of the word,
more humane. And also, I hope to emulate that too in the classroom, but also to try to hopefully live a life through that to be an example, just like other people totally
make this world a better place.